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Something Smells Fishy

July 7, 2012
baby koi

baby koi (i)

When you stock a pond with minnows those minnows will thrive and grow until they become fully mature adult fish. As most adult fish observed in the same pond vary relatively little in size, we are tempted to infer that they have reached their limit of growth both as individual fish and as a species. But people who started to observe multiple ponds noticed that some ponds tend to produce even larger mature fish.

Eventually we realized that the limitation was not something intrinsic to the fish, but a product of the fish and the pond in which it grows up. So we had the brilliant idea of transferring these fish to larger ponds. Timing is crucial; we must allow each fish to begin its life in the pond which it was born and allow it to grow to the point where it won’t be devoured by the giant fish in the pond which it will later call home. But we must act before the young fish’s brain sends the signal that its size and maturity is sufficient for its environment – lest it will arrive in the new pond without the ability to grow at all.

We discovered that in general, 18 months was the perfect amount of time to satisfy these constraints for the vast majority of fish.

adult koi

koi – all grown up (i)

So the fish thrived by this system – for a while. Until we started to realize that the 18 month old fish in our pond were a few inches shorter than they used to be. We tried to figure it out; was it something we were feeding them? Were we not spending enough time reading to our precious caviar? Did we need to let them stick around for 21 months before moving them to the big pond? Thirty months?

We also noticed another problem; the fish we were sending to the big ponds weren’t only smaller, but they weren’t growing in their new environment either.  Large-pond dropout rates soared.

We speculated and threw blame; perhaps young fish were getting lazier, perhaps the parents weren’t sitting on their eggs long enough – it wasn’t uncommon for papafish to just swim off with some younger skankfish and leave behind an angry single motherfish.

Dr. Martin Luther Kingfish
GFDL, by Nholtzha (Own work), from Wikimedia Commons

Many whitefish (the dominant species of fish at the time) speculated it had something to do with all of those black bass (also known as largemouth bass) that had taken over the neighborhood in recent years.  This viewpoint was largely tamed thanks to the work and sacrifice of the great Dr. Martin Luther Kingfish.

Or maybe it had something to do with all those fruity rainbow trout that live in the west side of the pond corrupting our young with their flashy scales and hilarious banter.

These were scary times to be a fish.

The problem was that communities grow, but ponds do not. Our natural evolutionary response is to shut off the growth mechanism in our fishy brains earlier than we used to so that we can all fit in the same pond and hopefully not start eating each other like they do in those big scary oceans that grandpafish read about in their newspapers.

The fish banded together and created systems to support and protect the development and well-being of all fish and eventually something wonderful happened.

After years of hard work and suffering, it started raining non stop for days and months.  The water rose until an overcrowded pond became a giant lake. Young fish were able to thrive again, and the grownupfish suddenly started to calm their nerves and appreciate each other – even the largemouth black bass – because despite their differences they had survived the scary times together.

But these complicated systems were still and place and in the context of this giant lake the very things that once saved our minnows started to stifle their growth just like the small pond had so long ago.

School of white fish 'race to the top'

School of fish – notice the white fish race to the top while any colored fish are left behind; practically indistinguishable from the darkness of the deep water below.

The fish realized this, largely in part to the disproportionate numbers of black bass in prisons and the achievement gap between adolescent whitefish and black bass in their schools.  But at the same time they had great pride in the system – it was a product of their diverse community that saved their lives when they were threatened before. It symbolized everything they  had achieved and accomplished and it was a part of who they were as fishkind. Even the rainbow trout respected it despite the fact that they weren’t afforded the same legal status as traditional fish couples.

So instead of deconstructing the system, the fish decided to build on top of it. Special needs fish were transferred into holding tanks designed to accommodate their differences, while some fish were transferred to other ponds at earlier or later stages in growth depending on development and desire. It was a system whose complexities grew exponentially until one day something else happened.

A group of really smart microfish and macinfish fish had been working hard behind the scenes to create a system of streams and rivers which connected every lake and pond on the planet. (Credit for this system was temporarily usurped by a then well-known blue gourami – historians tell us that he disliked the color blue as a child and opted to drop ‘blue’ and instead went by ‘Al’)

blue gourami

‘Al’ Gourami

Everyone was extremely impressed, but nervous. At first, the only fish that ventured out into new lakes were explorers and predators.

Fear and ignorance took over. Mommy and daddy fish wouldn’t allow their young anywhere near these rivers and streams in fear that they would either be swept away by the current or devoured by the predators. The explorers either got consumed themselves or were feared and shunned by others who were uncertain as to what they actually were; friend or hungry foe.

So many sharks had been disguising themselves as clown fish that to this day many adult fish avoid the circus to ward off repressed memories of minnow molestation.

Adult fish did everything to keep their minnows away from these evil places but the curiosity of youth prevailed – leading to a period of time where both knowledge and danger grew more quickly than anyone could fully appreciate.

Clownfish Houston Zo

Innocent Clownfish? (ii)

The fact was that everyone was correct; this world presented unprecedented opportunity and unprecedented danger.

You will be happy to know that the fish have started coming out of their dark holes. Communities have started to utilize the same strategies the predators had once monopolized to learn how to recognize and stop them. The dangers of this new world were starting to subside but the growth continued at an accelerating rate.

But fear and resentment take much longer to go away – and they threaten to once again stifle our minnows.

Right now it is tempting to go back to that old system that has served fishkind in the past. But as much as the system must be respected and valued as a symbol of what a diverse community can accomplish against all odds, the GOPpies must recognize that they aren’t in a little isolated pond anymore. They aren’t even a system of unified ponds; because the waters continue to rise and the rivers that once connected them will soon be a distant memory – submerged beneath the giant ocean that will soon cover us all.

Or terrorist in disguise? (iii)

We can build a dam, block the rivers and wrap ourselves in the safety of this tangled web we have been weaving for so long – but we can’t stop the rain. Eventually there will be new dangers and new predators to threaten us and when the waters are sufficiently high they will come and find us hopelessly trapped in a net and unable to swim to safety.

Rainbow Trout and Jesus Fish

Jesus Fish may always disapprove of the Rainbow Trout

The greatest thing a society can accomplish has nothing to do with finding a way to stop eating each other. It has nothing to do with equality and tolerance. Some fish were simply not meant to ever get along.

Our greatest accomplishment will simply be getting to the point where those words only exist as ancient and obsolete concepts that our minnows read about in textbooks.

And as these minnows learn about the past their minds will grow until eventually the growth levels off and they become adult fish. Observers will notice that mature fish from the same ocean tend to be roughly the same size and they will infer from these observations that this is a limitation of the species of fish. But as the observers travel to different oceans they will start to discover much larger fish than they originally thought possible.

Eventually they will realize…..

(i) Koi images courtesy of apartoftheforest.com
(ii) Photo by Karamash at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
(iii) Photo by takomabibelot [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2012 5:34 am

    Fantastic job; very well put. You’ve captured the human condition perfectly here…we are indeed a fishy bunch. One day, we’ll all realize we can’t stop the rain.

  2. Linda Wolfe permalink
    July 13, 2012 12:02 pm

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful and imaginative allegory and your wonderful sense of humor. But please, please don’t be tricked by those devilfish in Jesus clothing. He never taught anything but love of all brothers/sisters; the condemnation was only added afterward by those who were not yet fully ready to follow his example. I’m sure that deep in your heart you know the truth of this, and that one day they will be ready and the rainbow after that soaker will be glorious.

    Love you.

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